Sean McCarthy's Top 100 Of The 2000s (Part I)
Numbers 100 Through 81
[Editor's note: Cover images of albums previously reviewed on the DV have been linked to the review.]
In the '90s, we saw hair metal and boy bands destroyed by grunge and alternative rock, only to have boy bands resurface stronger than ever at the end of the decade. At the beginning of this decade, we saw boy bands be destroyed once again, but by what was up for debate. Thanks to file sharing, MySpace and Internet radio, musical tastes became more and more divergent. As a result, there was no galvanizing movement like grunge or superstar like Michael Jackson to steer the masses in a certain direction. Videos virtually disappeared.
For a record executive, this decade sucked. For a music fan, you couldn't ask for a better environment. Don't want to pay for a CD? Try Lime Wire. Afraid of potential viruses from Lime Wire? Listen to albums for free on LastFM, LaLa, Spinner and MySpace. Several bands cited diminished album sales as reasons to start selling their music to car companies and in the case of The Flaming Lips, Kraft mayonnaise. "Selling out" became less and less of an artistic sin as shows like Grey's Anatomy and Gossip Girl had artists actually clamoring to be featured on their soundtrack.
World events also played a significant role in shaping the musical landscape. Beginning with the most devastating attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, September 11 brought forth an era of anxiety and uncertainty. The Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Sleater-Kinney took on the Bush administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the handling of Hurricane Katrina.
The best albums of this decade proved to be a reflection of our times before many of the events even took place. Two of the decade's more influential albums, Jay-Z's The Blueprint and Bob Dylan's Love And Theft, were released September 11, 2001. Radiohead's Kid A took the isolation in OK Computer to a new plateau of alienation. Perhaps the only major movement of new music this decade, indie, showed that good music could find an audience without video or radio airplay. There was still the occasional blockbuster, but bands had to settle for a mere "double-platinum" award rather than then five million-plus sales marks of decades before. And like most decades, some years were packed with potential "album of the year" releases and others were on the lean side (one of my albums of the year didn't even wind up in my top 100).
This decade saw the music world get a lot smaller. But the following 100 albums show that ambition, bravery and just plain kick-ass skills were still a commodity.
100. Black Mountain – In the Future - 2008
This decade saw a resurgence of progressive rock. Whether or not you're a fan of 15-minute epics will determine if this is actually a good trend. Even if you're not a fan, it's hard not to admire Black Mountain's mix of chugging butt rock and dizzying time signature shifts. Amber Webber provides an unexpected bit bruised soulful beauty with the closer "Night Walks." Apparently, progressive rock can be sexy.
99. Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex Girlfriend - 2007
Now THIS is a caribou Barbie I can endorse. Yes, reality TV has given us the likes of Daughtry and Taylor Hicks, but it has also given us Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert and in the case of Nashville Star, another Lambert by the name of Miranda. "Gunpowder and Lead" and "Famous In a Small Town" are the type of rip-roaring bar anthems that are sorely missing in modern country. But Lambert's talents hit home with "Down," a great marriage of heartbreak and rage.
98. Blur – Think Tank – 2003 So far, it looks like Think Tank is Blur's last album. And what a mess of an album it was. Graham Coxon quit during the recording, robbing Blur of one of the best rhythm guitarists in rock. "Crazy Beat" is a woeful attempt at a hit song on a challenging album. But during the leadup to the war in Iraq, there wasn't a better album that conveyed the weary exhaustion of a world that was burned out on Orange and Red Alerts. From the beautiful "Out of Time" to the trippy "Jets," Think Tank was the resigned sound of an opened bottle of wine after all the protests failed to halt the inevitable.
97. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – B.M.R.C. – 2000
One year before The Strokes and The White Stripes kickstarted the garage rock revival, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released their debut. And while the name and even the unassuming black-and-white cover seems to scream "garage band," what you get instead is an intoxicating blend of Kinks-like rock ("Love Burns") and quasi-rebellious posturing ("Whatever Happened to My Rock 'N Roll"). But what sticks is this band combing the best elements of UK-style shoegazer rock with an solid ear for a great hook, which is on full display on "Salvation," one of the best album closers of the decade.
96. The Appleseed Cast – Low Level Owl Vol. 1 – 2001
Lawrence, Kansas-based The Appleseed Cast fearlessly released Low Level Owl Vol. 1, n album that was packed with six-minute-plus ambient anthems, but the musicianship never left you bored. If anything, like Brian Eno's '70s work, it left you eager for Volume 2 with a secret hope they would do a Volume 3, 4, 5 and 6. The Appleseed Cast continued to make stellar music during this decade, but Low Level Owl Vol. 1 remains their pinnacle.
95. Morphine – The Night – 2000
OK, this is a sentimental favorite. After all, the album was wrapped up way before this decade even began. It had none of the musical elements that defined this decade. And it even wasn't close to Morphine's best album. But almost a decade after its release, The Night just continues to get better. While Mark Sandman's presence is all over the album, dual drummers Billy Conway and Jerome Deupree and Dana Colley's sax work showed the band was capable of breaking out of its perceived low-rock limitations.
94. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime – The Field – 2007
From Here We Go Sublime is one of those albums that functioned perfectly as background music, but if you turned around and gave it your full attention, it can pull you in. It's a mammoth of a debut album, packed with pulsating, ambient hooks, but what separates The Field from falling into "background video game music" territory is the band's ability to balance dance floor hooks with headphone atmospherics.
93. The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way – 2006
Somehow, it took a lot less to piss off The Right musically in this decade. In the '90s, it was Marilyn Manson. But this decade, it was a band that until 2004, was so embraced by middle America that they became the most successful female group in the United States. But dogged by critics, the band recruited Rick Rubin and released their best album. In the defiant title track, Natalie Maines sings "It's been two long years now, since the top of the world came crashing down." We all know what she was talking about, but like the best rock, that song could easily be a personal anthem to one's own struggles as well as a rallying cry for a nation.
92. Spoon – Gimmie Fiction – 2005
Spoon is on the Merge label, one of the most influential labels in indie rock for this decade. And this decade has taught us that if you have to work at liking an album, it must be great. So what a relief that Spoon has consistently released some of the most instantly appealing albums this decade. "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" and "My Mathematical Mind" were great exercises in minimalism and proof that yes, piano is a percussion instrument. Britt Daniel's voice may sound like he's in desperate need of a dose of Ny-Quil, but strangely enough, it also is one of the sexiest voices in rock. Gimmie Fiction was the album that finally gave the band the audience they so deserve.
91. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black – 2006
Rod Stewart and Sting have each made embarrassing grabs at extra album sales by either releasing an album of jazz standards or incorporating enough soft jazz in their release to be perfect background music at your local wine bar. But seven decades ago, jazz was just as rambunctious and capable of scaring the shit out of mainstream America as gangsta rap was in the early '90s. Amy Winehouse's Back to Black captures that side of jazz. On songs like "You Know I'm No Good" and the title track, Winehouse shows she knows the source material. And on the inescapable hit "Rehab," we know all too well, she's more than capable of backing up her boasts.
90. Cowboy Junkies – Open – 2001
If you're not a devoted fan, it's easy to forget the members of the Cowboy Junkies are still creating music. The band can release an album every two years or so with the same formula: great lyrics by Michael Timmins sung by Margo Timmins, still one of the best voices in rock. But every now and then, the band is capable of stirring its formula just a bit with some great results. In the '90s, that album was called Pale Sun, Crescent Moon. This decade, it was called Open.
89. Snow Patrol – Final Straw – 2004
Snow Patrol have racked up plenty of Coldplay comparisons. But Coldplay probably will never release anything as freaky as Songs For Polarbears, the album Snow Patrol released before Final Straw broke them into the majors. Gary Lightbody's lyrics can range from heartbreaking honesty ("How to Be Dead," "Run") to ridiculously corny ("If it looks like it works, and if it feels like it works then it works"). But you'd have to be an absolute hardened cynic not to at least get a tad mushy when Lightbody sings about having his heart burst in "Spitting Games." Corny or not, few bands could do pop as beautiful as Snow Patrol this decade.
88. Panda Bear – Person Pitch - 2007
Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear)'s Person Pitch is such a perfect imitation of the best elements of the late-60s-era Beach Boys that it's hard to think of Person Pitch as a Panda Bear album. Instead, it becomes that album you wish the Beach Boys could have made after Brian Wilson made Smile. Seven songs, all sounding like a calm tide, make up this pop masterpiece. And unlike some of the releases from his other band, Animal Collective, listeners were free to take in Person Pitch without worrying if the band was being genuine or ironic.
87. The National – Boxer – 2007
So if Interpol is a Joy Division rip-off, is the National a rip-off of a rip-off? Not likely. While the band shares plenty of moody crooning ala New Order, The National makes up in song quality what it may lack in originality. "Apartment Story" may be one of the most misunderstood love songs of this decade. At one listen, a line like "We'll stay inside 'til somebody finds us / do whatever the TV tells us" sounds like something you'd want to write your girlfriend on Valentine's Day. The next listen, it sounds like a threat from a stalker.
86. Hot Snakes – Audit in Progress – 2004
On their third album, Hot Snakes perfected their blast of "is it punk or just really aggressive rock?" mix courtesy of John Reis' guitar work and drummer Mario Rubalcaba. "Hatchet Job" and "Kreative Kontrol" reestablish punk purity for a new audience: get in, kick ass, get the hell out and start again. Repeat 12 times.
85. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker – 2000
Ryan Adams, no stranger to erratic stage behavior, was known to shout "Fuck Whiskeytown!" when someone in the audience requested a song from his former band. Immature, yes, but you could hardly blame him. At the start of this decade, Adams was itching to prove he could make it as a solo artist. All of that prolific talent (be it a goofy talk about Morrissey or an extended, drunken pity session) and hunger to establish a name for himself went into Heartbreaker.
84. Pulp – We Love Life – 2001
Like Blur, a reunion is not totally out of the cards for Pulp. But I would not be surprised if people secretly hope Pulp opt not to mess with perfection (or at least near perfection) and continue to let We Love Life stand as their final statement. For their last album, the band recruited one of their heroes (Scott Walker) to help produce the album. What listeners got was an organic album that still had Jarvis Cocker's wit intact. And with "Sunshine," the band went out in a way that few bands could even aspire to.
83. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow – 2003
Thanks to Zach Braff, The Shins are the whipping boys of anyone who hates indie music. And true, the band doesn't do themselves any favors with their live shows. But put aside prejudices and listen to the ten flawless pop gems on Chutes Too Narrow and discover a band that will hopefully be able to weather the backlash and keep producing this type of material well into the '10s.
82. The Beta Band – Hot Shots II – 2001
Erratic doesn't begin to cover The Beta Band's output in the late-90s up until 2001. First, they release an EP that was immortalized in the movie High Fidelity. Then, they released an album that all but killed that momentum. Then, they turn around and release this stunner. "Squares" may have gotten the airplay, but that's actually one of the weaker tunes on the album.
81. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes – 2002
Interscope may have had higher hopes for …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. After only a few albums, the label dropped the Austin band. Their loss. While the band didn't exactly set the charts on fire, they did release one of the most blistering hard rock albums in a decade sorely lacking in quality hard rock. Source Tags & Codes had plenty to satisfy listeners in terms of aggression, but patient listeners were equally rewarded with some amazing musicianship.
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